Thursday, July 18, 2013

Newsletter Basics



When I started using a professional email service, I decided to use Vertical Response. Frankly, my decision was made because I got a newsletter from Michael Connelly, and he was using VR. I haven't used any other service, so I'm sharing what my experiences have been with a sample size of one.

Things to consider when choosing an email service:

1. Cost. Vertical Response has a "pay as you go" option which is perfect for someone like me, who has a relatively small number of subscribers and sends 4 newsletters a year.

2. Ease of use. It's nice to have some basic templates. It's also nice when you can modify them, and even nicer when there's someone at the other end to help you out. I found all of these options very user-friendly. I can copy and paste from Word, create links, and add images. If you have a blog or website you maintain, you've got more than the skills you need.

3. List maintenance. VR lets me create as many mailing lists as I want, and it will merge them into a "master list" since all I do is send my newsletter. However, if I want to see who signed up for my newsletter based on a promotion I did, I can look at the individual lists. Also, and for me this is a very nice feature, is that I don't have to worry about duplicates. When I add a batch of names (and there are step-by-step instructions for how to upload names), VR will kick out any duplicates.

4. Tracking. VR provides detailed statistics about how many people open your newsletter, how many unsubscribe (which is an option you MUST include), bounces, clicks, and more. I think industry standard is an open rate of about 18%, so when I get reports of a 42% open rate, I've learned to think of it as 'above the standard' rather than "why doesn't everyone read my newsletter?"

Things to consider when putting together a newsletter.

1. Frequency. I "advertise" quarterly and don't betray my readers' trust by inundating their inboxes whenever I think I have something cool to say. Can you come up with suitable content for whatever schedule you decide?

2. Content. I decided to cover specific topics in my newsletters. I begin with an introduction, usually telling my readers a little bit about what my life is like up in the mountains where I live. My other sections are:

On the Writing Front. This is where I mention current books, new releases, etc.

What's Up Next? What I'm working on now, or what I'm doing. In my last issue, I mentioned being excited about attending ThrillerFest and mentioned that I'm going to give away a box of books in conjunction with my Facebook page.

In the Works. I'd mention what I'm working on, or what I'm planning to work on.

Contests and Giveaways. Sadly, people want a reason to read your newsletter. I always have some sort of a contest or giveaway. Right now, my Booklover's Bench colleagues are joining me, so I have books from other authors to give away as well.

One thing I try not to do is overload my content with "buy my book." I think readers like seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff. Also, I provide bonus content. My newsletter subscribers get exclusives, be they a contest they can enter only from the newsletter, or a peek at a new cover or extras from books.

Back to the "Open Rate." Ways to increase the number of people who read your newsletter is to have an enticing subject line. I've learned that my earlier "Update from Terry Odell" wasn't getting me as many readers as "Update and Giveaway from Terry Odell." Getting that "this will be worth your time" wording into the subject line helps.

I know some people include photo albums, recipes, puzzles and games. I tried those, but decided to keep things shorter (and easier). I already share photos and recipes on my blog, so people can find them there.

What do you like/dislike in author newsletters?


Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

29 comments :

  1. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with Vertical Response. They sound like a good service.

    Just to list some of the other major email and autoresponder services available:

    Aweber
    MailChimp
    Constant Contact
    Tiny Letter (run by MailChimp)
    Get Response

    They all have pros and cons, so do a bit of reading up before you choose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for listing other choices. Definitely weigh the pros and cons that work for you. I didn't want to speak to companies I haven't had experience with--maybe someone can put together a comparison list of features and costs.

      Terry
      Terry's Place


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  2. This sounds like an easy way to create mailing lists. I'd like to hear more about how you develop your email list.

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    1. I collect names via contests I hold (along with others in the Booklover's Bench I belong to). It's a stipulation that they have to agree to be added in order to enter. Of course, they can opt out. Rafflecopter is a good place to create contests. I also used Fresh Fiction which charges for membership or holding giveaways, but they get a lot of traffic, so I got a lot of names when I used their site. If I'm making a personal appearance anywhere, I bring along a sign-up sheet, usually giving away a prize to one person who signs up.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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    2. I'll probably address a bit of that in my wrap-up post, Diana. For example, a publishing company should feel perfectly comfortable adding everyone who submits manuscripts to them. Those people would want to know everything about the publisher. Regular prompts on Facebook and Twitter are good. Having a sign-up front and center on your blog and website. Those sorts of methods. We can brainstorm some more.

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  3. Very helpful post, Terry. This series on newsletters has been timely for me as I have considered doing a newsletter. I have not in the past as I thought blogging was enough. I like your newsletter for the personal touch of sharing your life beyond writing. It is like getting a note from a friend, not a marketing missive. I also like Kristen Lamb's newsletter for the good tips on marketing, as well as her humor. I think that personal connection is so important.

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    Replies
    1. I like to think I'm writing a letter to friends when I construct my newsletters. Glad you've enjoyed them.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  4. Go Daddy has a very reasonable service that I use in conjunction with my website, that matches the theme so it looks like a cohesive package. The only problem is that it is opt-in only—which protects me, but keeps me from being able to add names I've collected elsewhere. The recipient must sign up himself, through my website.

    Watching this series closely—while I know exactly what to put in my editing newsletter, I'm still trying to decide what to put in my author newsletter!

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  5. I like that VR lets me add names, although I have to confirm I have permission. On the flip side, it's a 2-step process for all subscribers, so they have to click through to confirm they've signed up. Sometimes they don't, so they're not added to the list.

    As for your newsletter--I suggest keeping it short while you figure out what information you want to convey to your readers. You can always add features.

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  6. On the writing front, what's up next, in the works ... it'd be the same thing every issue ... the upside: it would be easy to create content. (Now, I've got to go back and check my grammar ... it's not easy commenting here at the BRP ... but I like it rough).

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    1. So, Chris - are YOU one of my subscribers? If so, you'll see how I've 'modified' similar content from previous issues. Or stretched the meaning of the section header. :-)

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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    2. And there's one demonstration of getting a subscriber! :D

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  7. "An 18% open rate?" That's less than 1 out of 5 bothering to open the newsletter. I peruse a higher rate of the junk mail that comes via the USPS. Sounds like email users are much more selective.

    Steve in CA

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    Replies
    1. It varies by the industry, I think, and according to Vertical Response, they calculate the open rate when someone clicks to show the images, which are usually hidden in html newsletters until the recipient "shows" them, so the actual number of people who read the newsletter might be higher than the open rate--I know I often don't bother showing the images, but just read the copy. And other providers might have other ways to track opens.

      Vertical Response also lets me know how many people click on each link in my newsletter.

      All I know is that when I grumbled that barely half my list opened my newsletter, I was told that was a good result overall. Frankly, I'd prefer people would unsubscribe rather than hit the 'delete' key, because I'm paying for the newsletter. Not a lot per address, but it adds up.

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    2. Likely just more busy. I subscribe to at least 50 out of courtesy, and often it's a compelling teaser that makes me open it. Something to think about.

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    3. Steve, and thanks for signing your name. :)

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  8. Truly appreciate this post, Terry. I know I've GOT to do this, but I keep resisting! This makes it sound doable though, so thank you!

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    1. It's not really hard. There's a learning curve, but once you get your template, you just copy it each time. And since I blog regularly, writing content for a newsletter isn't any harder.

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  9. I would add one other thing. If people are unsubscribing, it's good to consider why. Possibilities include that their interests have changed or they're too busy and are "simplifying" their mailboxes. But also consider that you're not giving them something they are interested in reading or they feel like they're being spammed because you send out too many notices. What often works best is a promise that you won't email more than once a month.

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    1. A lot of people play the contest games, which means they have to subscribe to enter, but they unsubscribe once they get it. Or they enter under half a dozen different emails, and will unsubscribe all but one (assuming they like what they get). It would be nice if they all subscribed because they want content, but that's not going to be the case. Part of the "cost" of doing business.

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  10. I've addressed a similar topic over at the Kill Zone: http://bit.ly/1arYElP Like Terry, I do a quarterly newsletter. It's important to keep in touch with your readers but not to flood their mailboxes. Increasing my open rate is the next goal.

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    1. Good luck with that, Nancy. You have a good newsletter, but unlike "Field of Dreams," if you send it, they don't always open.

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    2. We could do an entire post on naming the newsletter to get attention.

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  11. I signed up for your newsletter, too. That must mean this article is a winner! :-)

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  12. One more thing, Terry -- love your logo!

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    1. Thanks -- my daughter gave it to me for a birthday present. She knows a graphic designer, and he created it. I like it a lot, too. Thanks for signing up for my newsletter--next one comes out in the fall.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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